Sam takes a look at the classic sci-fi thriller from 1979 in his first edition of Movies That Rule. This movie needs no introduction.
I had always heard of “Alien” when I was growing up in my nerdy social group. But when I was younger, I was too scared to watch ‘scary’ movies. Whether it’s as campy as Jason (no offense) or as unsettling as The Shining, I wanted no part of them. Fast forward to today and I still don’t consider myself a horror movie fan. I just don’t want to spend an hour and a half of being subjected to different unsettling scenes with gory detail and suspense. But after years of gasps and shocked faces when I tell people I haven’t seen Alien yet, I finally ‘maned’ up and watched one of the most suspenseful films of all time. And I found out that it’s a movie that rules even today despite it being over 30 years old.
The first scene shows the ship completely silent floating through space. At this point, I had a feeling of curiosity met with awe that I hadn’t experienced since I saw A New Hope for the first time a long time ago. The ship comes to life with computer screens of green text just spitting out lines of text and code as it’s starting up. Slowly the people on the ship come to life from their stasis sleep because the ship received a distress signal from a nearby planetoid. The movie is slower than Dead Man at this point. The reason I’m highlighting such an inconsequential scene in the beginning is because without it, the movie wouldn’t be nearly as thrilling. The rest of the exposition goes like this until one of the crewmates, Executive Officer Kane, gets attacked by one of those face-grabber things on the planetoid.
It’s at this point where the movie’s tone changes. For the longest time, you were waiting to see what this movie was about. What is this “alien” that the movie is named after? The answer to that question (only partly) is on Kane’s face, but Warrant Officer Ripley thinks that bringing it back on board is not acceptable as it would be a risk to the crew. Oh, the irony. But they don’t listen to her, and they bring Kane into the sick bay and leave him on the deck. Everyone goes back to their business, until a bit later when the face-hugger thing has mysteriously disappeared. The scene where the crew goes into the sick bay and starts looking for the mysterious creature is one of my favorites in the whole movie, because in the whole scene the camera is just in the corner of the room with the body in the direct center of the shot while everyone else are on the edges of the shot looking for the creature. While the crew is looking around, the camera is literally telling you where they should be looking, Kane’s body. The rest is history. If you haven’t seen it, you’ve already read too much of this article. I won’t go big on spoilers, but with this movie, it’s best if you know as little as possible. I had the unfortunate disservice of believing “Alien vs. Predator” was going to be a good movie. And the whole ‘Alien’ mythos has become a part of part culture. (Spaceballs, anyone?) So I kind of knew what I was getting into.
The rest of the movie is a complete change of pace from the first half. Now everyone is freaking out, on edge, and unsure what’s going to happen. Ripley now becomes the hero of the story as everyone tries different ways to get the Alien off the ship. In this part of the movie, you never quite see the whole Alien. At most, you get a shot of the head and its swiping arms but with careful use of lighting and cinematography, you never get a real good look. Slowly people die off one by one as the Alien lurks around the ship leaving only Ripley to fend for herself. One of the things I love about the whole Alien series is Ripley’s character. She is definitely the one who is smartest of the group and in a movie with a very negative overall tone, having a clear hero to latch onto and root for is just good storytelling and why I feel that the series as whole is actually pretty solid, despite the claims I’ve heard about the rest. (Okay, ‘Resurrection’ kind of sucked, but the premise was an interesting way to bring it back. And Winona Ryder is pretty hot.)
Simply put, this movie rules. The suspense is mind-numbingly intense, and the plot itself is well written. Combine that with excellent cinematography and a director who really knows how to make a suspense thriller and you’ve already got a solid film. But Sigourney Weaver’s chilling performance really makes the movie a classic in the suspense/horror genre. The rest may never be as good, but that’s because the audience knows what to expect. And unless the anti gets upped (like it did in “Aliens”), the sequel will always languish (“Alien 3” and “Alien Resurrection”). But Alien, despite the fact that it’s the oldest of the bunch, still holds up the best. If you’ve been putting the movie off like I did, it’s time to experience why there is a craze around the series. If you already know the horror, then watch it again; it’s one of the few movies that actually deserve another watch.
Sam has never considered himself a movie buff, but he does know when he had a good time watching a movie. Watching Alien was one of those times. Follow Sam and his antics on twitter @samcar455.